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  • Writer's pictureDimitri Ozerkov

Utopia and Reality. El Lissitzky, Ilya and Emilia Kabakovs

When:   27.06.2013 - 24.08.2013

Where:  Court Gallery of the Winter Palace, Rooms No. 334-342 , Hermitage, Saint-Petersburg, Russia


The event was organised by the State Hermitage Museum in cooperation with the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, which is home to the largest collection of Lissitzky’s art outside Russia. The exhibition is part of the Year of Russia in the Netherlands and the Year of the Netherlands in Russia 2013, organised by Hermitage 20/21 Project, a large-scale programme to expand the collection of 20th and 21st century art and to increase the number of pieces of art by contemporary artists in the Hermitage collection. The exhibition presents many installations, drawings, pictures, sketches, models, and photos from various museums and private collections with commentaries by various artists. El Lissitzky (1890-1941) was one of the leading Russian avant-garde artists, painter, architect, book illustrator, photographer, poster artist, expositional space reformer, teacher and theoretician of new art. Ilya Kabakov (b. 1933) is one of the most famous and popular Russian artists, a living classic of international art. Mr. Kabakov has become renowned in the West as the author of the specific genre of “Total installation,” which brings together pictures, texts, artefacts and sounds. At present, he and his wife Emilia Kabakova live in New York and is a US citizen. The works by the Kabakovs presented at the event come from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Tretyakov Gallery, Bakhrushin Museum, Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow and private collections. The exposition runs as a parallel and opposition between the avant-garde art representing Soviet utopia and Moscow conceptualism as the art of Soviet reality. The exhibition is organised as an exchange of messages between the artists running through the enfilade of rooms divided into seven major topics: Space, Clean Forms, Overcoming Daily Routine, Monument to the Leader, Transforming Life, Faith in Implementing the Future, Artist as Reformer (El Lissitzky). The works by the Kabakovs enter into a dialog of sorts with the works by Lissitzky. Their works are presented in the following sections: Voices in the Void, Garbage, Daily Routine Wins, Monument to the Tyrant, Running Away from Life, Utopia Lost, Artist as Reflecting Persona. Ilya and Emilia Kabakovs say: "The two artists represent two distinctly different parts of the 20th century: its beginning and end. But the conceptual difference between the two periods is even more important: the period of hope for new and positive changes and the period with a complete lack of hope for any changes or results, mostly negative and disappointing. This separation also demonstrates the dual conception of the event: to show the viewers all major "opposition", in which each artist is represented through his or her art, as well as to introduce each artist through texts as a developer of these contrasts. One of the key themes is shown in the famous installation of Ilya and Emilia Kabakovs A Man Who Flew to Space from His Apartment (1985). Presented in opposition to this work at the exhibition are Lissitzky’s Proun-mappes, who said of them: "Our life has now acquired a new, reinforced concrete, Communist foundation for all nations of the world. Proun-mappes will be used to build the monolithic Communist cities were people of the entire planet will live." The concept of the exhibition has been developed by Charles Esche, Director of the Van Abbe Museum. Exhibition curators: Dmitry Ozerkov, Ph.D., head of the Department of Modern Art of the State Hermitage Museum and Darya Bubnova, Junior Research Associate, Department of Modern Art of the State Hermitage Museum. A special illustrated research catalogue in Russian and English has been prepared for the event. The catalogue includes introductory remarks by Mikhail Piotrovsky, the General Director of the State Hermitage and Charles Esche. Articles have been written by art theoretician Boris Groys, Dmitry Ozerkov, and Olga Sviblova, Director of the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow. The exhibition Utopia and Reality: El Lissitzky, Ilya and Emilia Kabakovs was presented with much success at the Van Abbe Museum in the Netherlands (1 December 2012 - 28 April 2013). After the presentation at the State Hermitage Museum the exhibition will travel to the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow (16 September - 24 November 2013), and in 2014 - to the Modern Art Museum in Graz, Austria. In 2004 the State Hermitage Museum presented an exhibition entitled Ilya and Emilia Kabakovs: An Incident in the Museum and other Installations from the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the first large exhibition of the Kabakovs in Russia, which signifies the return of the artists to their homeland for the first time since their emigration in 1988. The Hermitage collection includes several gifts from Ilya and Emilia Kabakovs to the museum: installations Red Train Car, In the Closet, Toilet in the Corner, and a collection of drawings and printed materials).

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